Director Says Complacency Played a Role in Prison Break

The man in charge of the Michigan Department of Corrections says complacency among some employees played a role in Michael Elliot's escape from Ionia prison.

Dan Heyns faced a panel of State Senators Thursday morning in Lansing. He cautiously answered questions about how the convicted murderer was able to walk away from the prison the night of February 2, 2014.

Heyns said it was a complex set of circumstances that lead to the breach in security. He didn't get into specifics, citing the ongoing investigations by both his department, and the Michigan Attorney General's office. But Heyns did point to human error, when he mentioned two Ionia prison employees, that have been suspended since the escape. "I don't know when the human complacency factor weighed in here in Ionia. I think it had been down for some time and that is my problem. I own that problem."

Heyns says Elliot was a model prisoner throughout his 20 years in the system. He had been classified as a "Level 2" instead of a "Level 5" which denotes maximum security inmates. "This inmate has shown no prior flight risk. We have in excess of 5,000 people that are serving life sentences and Senator it's impossible for me to keep all of those people in level 5 security. We just don't have the resources."

The budget for the Department of Corrections has been cut in recent years. Heyns says he's been working hard to contain costs since taking control of the department in 2011. But he insists it was not a lack of money that lead to the escape. "I think we were adequately funded and staffed and the procedures were in place, the equipment was in place, we just got to make sure that people are doing their jobs."

Senator John Proos, Chair of the Corrections Subcommittee, says lawmakers were satisfied with Heyn's testimony. "Our goal today was to ensure that everything is being done to provide public safety to the state of Michigan, and to ensure that the Department of Corrections are fixing whatever breaches happened in this particular case."